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What Does It Mean to Give Your Pet a Good End? Maybe Not What You Think

judge copyFrankie was not a judgmental dog.

So I was sad, and little bit angry, to discover that some people have used praise of Frankie’s Fund, which is dedicated to helping homeless senior dogs get a great sendoff, to diss others’ ways of saying good-bye to their pets.

Judge Much?

As far as some folks are concerned, everyone is required to witness their pet’s final breath. A commenter (on another blogger’s Facebook post about Frankie’s Fund, not one of mine) wrote:

My pet peeve is when people say I couldn’t be with them at the end cuz it would be too hard. I always say nooo you owe it to them to be there to say thank you and love them right til that last breath. Hard yes, but would you want to die alone….

Another commenter agreed, writing:

They need to know that this isn’t happening because you don’t love them but because you DO. Been there done that and assured her that I love her til her last thankful look at me and last breath…..she KNEW I loved her, hated to let her go but wanted her to be pain free and no longer suffering

I am judgmental about many, many things when it comes to people and their pets. Drop your old dog off at a shelter because you want a newer model? You deserve to burn in hell. Mistreat your dog by hitting her, starving her, chaining her out in the cold? I hope you suffer those things yourself.

But being unable to watch a medical procedure after giving your pup a lifetime of loving care? This does not make you a bad person.

Here are a few questions I would ask of the “last breath” hardliners:

  • Do you watch your dog undergo anesthesia if you are bringing him in for a procedure like a dental cleaning?
  • Do you think your pet anticipates that one tranquilizing injection is going to be different from any another?
  • Do you trust your vet to treat your pet kindly?

If you answered no to the first and second, and yes to the third, I think you get my drift. Unless you are by his side freaking out (more on that in a minute), your dog is not anticipating anything different than what he would undergo in the course of a typical vet visit.  And when your dog is taking that last breath, he is hardly alone if he is with a trusted vet.

Irrational R Us

Hey, I get the irrationality.

I keep focusing on the moment that the hospice vet moved in too quickly to give Frankie his tranquilizing shot before he was fully involved with eating his ice cream. He balked in fear and I told her to wait. She did. In another minute, you could have bonked him on the head with a bone and he would not have moved away from the bowl, he was that focused on his sweet treat. The second attempt at the shot went fine; Frankie soon slipped down drowsily while he was still eating.

No way did Frankie sense this was his last supper.

But I nevertheless replay that one moment of fear in my head endlessly — which is nutty, when you think about it. Frankie balked at many of the insulin shots I gave him, often trying to run away. Why should the final shot be any different?

Because I knew its significance, even if Frankie didn’t.

When it comes to saying good-bye, you want everything to be perfect — as though that would mitigate your profound regret at having to let go, or give you some control over your grief. The end is never perfect, by definition, because you are losing a loved one, even in the relatively rare case when a pet dies in his sleep.

We all do what we can do

We all have different attitudes towards death.

I couldn’t — still can’t — deal with Frankie’s ashes. And I don’t think I could do what Leo of Kenzo Hovawart fame did with his dog Viva at the end  — take her body home so that his other dog, Kenzo, could say good-bye. Does that make me a bad pet caretaker?

Also: The hospice vet warned me that Frankie’s bowels might loosen when he died. I was okay with that (though it didn’t happen), in part because Frankie was small. But I completely understand wanting the last image you have of your dog to be one of him enjoying life, not suffering the indignities of death.

I’m not denying that the moment of death, when life leaves the body, is significant, though I didn’t notice anything in Frankie’s case. It was the vet who told me, after checking his heartbeat, that Frankie had passed. But when my friend Karyn put her greyhound, Painter, to sleep, I stayed in the living room with her other greyhound, Lilly. All of a sudden, Lilly gave a little shake, as though she had felt something. I don’t doubt that this shake occurred at the moment of Painter’s departure.

Karyn was there with Painter at the end, but if she had stayed in the room with me and Lilly while a very kind man gave Painter a final injection, I would not have thought less of her. What counts are the many, many things she did to let Painter know she loved him after she rescued him — not to mention the fact that she rescued him in the first place.

And that spirit of Painter that slipped away? It’s in Karyn’s heart, just as Frankie’s is in mine. You don’t have to be at your dog’s side at the very end for his spirit to find you. This I know.

Perhaps most important: Not everyone can suppress their grief over having to say good-bye. And an event that might be taken in stride by your pet, such as getting an injection, would indeed become fraught with confusion and fear if you were sitting there, weeping copiously.

A Two-Step Guilt-Alleviating Program

But I know that getting over the guilt and shame is easier said than done. So I’ve come up with a two-step program for dealing with not being able to be present at the end, for whatever reason.

1. Ask forgiveness of your pet for not being at her side.

I must have apologized to Frankie three or four times a day for things like accidentally kicking him when he got underfoot or spending too much time talking to someone who had a dog he was scared of. He always forgave me — because he never remembered that I did anything wrong, if he ever perceived it in the first place. And because he knew I loved him.

So do whatever you tend to do to apologize. You’ll receive absolution, I promise — well, at least from dogs, who are never vindictive. I can’t vouch for the cats.

2. Forgive yourself.

Because — and I can’t say this too often — you haven’t done anything wrong.

As for those who would judge others for their behavior at a very personal, individual moment:  Don’t. Save your righteous indignation for people who abuse animals, not for those who can’t bear to watch that final needle go in because it pierces their soul.

***

Did you appreciate this post? I hope you’ll consider donating to the very nonjudgmental Frankie’s Fund, which provides comfort for dogs at the end of their lives; it’s administered by GreyMuzzle.org, specialists in causes relating to homeless senior dogs. I’ve already raised close to $2,000 because of the generosity of many donors, but I am aiming for $5,000 by Christmas, which is only 9 days away.

Posted in End of pet life | Tagged , , | 22 Comments

Frankie’s Fund: A Progress Report

Last week I introduced Frankie’s Fund, administered by Grey Muzzle.

The Goals–And the Gets

Olimometer 2.52
Goal: $3128
Left to Raise: $50


It’s devoted to providing palliative care to homeless senior dogs so they can leave this life in comfort, feeling loved. And of course to keeping my beloved Frankie, who retired with the sendoff he deserved, in the public eye.

Click here for details about the fund and how to donate.

Many wonderful people have already donated. I’ve listed them below (with the exception of those who asked not to be listed).

And several people have shared the information on their blogs and on social media; I’ll soon talk about that here too.

But there’s still some way to go to get to the goal of $5,000 by Christmas.

So what are you waiting for?

Thank You, Thank You

The donations have been pouring in. Most of them had dedications to Frankie and/or personal messages to me, which I will cherish. I’ve noted only dedications to specified other dogs, below.

As of late December 8, the following people have donated (in alphabetical order):

  • Alexander, Ruth
  • Altman, Erin
  • Anderson, Susan
  • Applegate, Georgia: In memory of my 14 yr old Shih Tzu, Chico, who recently passed over. We sent him off the way we hope every dog would be sent, with love and dignity.
  • Badertscher, Vera Marie: from Bogie
  • Balinsky, Sharon
  • Banker, Debbie
  • Bendel, Peggy
  • Boren, Rebecca
  • Bouchard, Jackie
  • Boulanger, Sharon
  • Burkert, Amy and Rod
  • Crosby, Janet
  • Cunningham, De: To help those seniors who find themselves alone in their final days. May they know love.
  • David, Cynthia
  • Davis, Kate
  • Davis, Lydia
  • Fivecoat-Campbell, Kerri: In memory of Lilly [the heroine of Roxanne Hawn’s Champion of My Heart blog]
  • Flick, Deborah
  • Friesecke, Karen
  • Gerring, Lori
  • Halberstadt, Mary: In Memory of Vintage’s Mischief Managed – “Harry,” my grandpuppy.
  • Hammond, Sara: Remembering our dear Simon.
  • Hawn, Roxanne
  • Keefe, Janet
  • Kaemerle, Kate
  • Kelley, Laura
  • Lane, Hilary: To the memory of my heart dog, Frisbee, with endless gratitude.
  • Lehr, Robert
  • Mattox, Deborah
  • McMahon, Kathy
  • Miller-Young, Jody
  • Moses, Marlene
  • Myers, Kevin
  • Oakes, Sue: (Callie, Shadow, and Ducky’s Mom of “The Golden Life”)
  • Peterson, J.E.
  • Postiglione, AJ
  • Praisner, Michele
  • Rachael
  • Rae, Robin
  • Raines, Elaine
  • Reynolds, Kate
  • Robinson, Jillian
  • Scheltinga, Leo
  • Schmidt, Diane
  • Southwick, SJ: In memory of Ruby
  • Spector, Lisa
  • Stade, Kirsten
  • Sutin, Marilyn: And from Rosa
  • Tonks, Kristine
  • Watson, Jenni
  • Webster, Pamela
  • Wolfe, Debby
  • Zoldan, Karyn
  • And one who wished to remain anonymous: In honor of Hobo and Lucy, for the old ones who are not forgotten

I’ll keep updating this list.  If I’ve missed posting your donation, please let me know. I want to make sure it’s counted in the total and that you’re thanked. And if you want to dedicate your donation to a special dog in addition to Frankie, let me know and I’ll post it here.

Posted in End of pet life | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Frankie’s Fund: Help Give Every Dog a Great Sendoff

Frankie for blog-004Many people have asked if there was an organization to which they could donate in Frankie’s memory. This has touched me no end.

I confess that Frankie was not very philanthropic. Like most dogs, he was your basic narcissist: My food, my yard, my person. But I was that person and he gave me endless joy. I love the idea of being able to keep him in the limelight, while doing some good for other dogs.

But which dogs? There are so many worthy causes.

Who Are You Calling Old?

I adopted Frankie when he was five or six. During most of the nine years I spent with him, he would have been considered a senior. The label was meaningless — he was a frisky little bugger, often exhausting my energies —  but it apparently prevents some great dogs from getting adopted.  And there are no sadder words in the English language than “homeless senior dogs” — dogs that have spent years with people and then end up in shelters, confused and upset.

So I thought of Grey Muzzle:

The Grey Muzzle Organization improves the lives of at-risk senior dogs by providing funding and resources to animal shelters, rescue organizations, sanctuaries, and other non-profit groups nationwide.

We are not a shelter or rescue group. Rather, Grey Muzzle funds programs such as hospice care, senior dog adoption, medical screening, and other special programs to help old dogs at animal welfare organizations across the country.

Giving Dogs the Loving Sendoff They Deserve

But that’s still pretty general. I wanted to do something in Frankie’s name that was a bit more distinctive, given his own distinctiveness.  And  the last couple of months I spent with him gave me an idea.

Just as I believe every dog deserves a good life, I believe every one deserves a good death — free from fear, in a friendly environment, and in the company of a person who cares, with as many good times as possible under his belt. And yummy food.

There are amazing, selfless people who make this happen, sometimes called Forever Fosters. People who take in dogs near the end of their lives and care for them. They are willing to suffer the heartbreak of saying good-bye to wonderful dogs who may live only for a few months — or who may have several good years left.

I can’t begin to imagine being able to do this. My admiration for these caretakers is boundless. But admiration doesn’t pay the bills.

Frankie’s Fund is devoted to helping relieve these caretakers of their financial burden, of getting dogs in these homes palliative veterinary care — things like pain killers and evaluative exams rather than expensive, extreme life-saving measures — and perhaps in-home euthanasia, if a dog does not pass naturally and a final trip to the vet would be too stressful.

The type of care you would give — perhaps have already given — your own beloved pet. The great sendoff every dog deserves.

Grey Muzzle will dispense the gathered funds to foster caretakers through carefully vetted organizations.

Making a Donation

Please go over to Grey Muzzle’s donation page and keep scrolling down past the Payment Information section until you get to the box with the header “If you have a special purpose for your donation, please let us know” and enter “Frankie’s Fund” in the slot under “I want my donation to be dedicated:”

My email address, to be put in the slot that asks for it, is writestf at me.com

And then be sure to check the box to the right that says “Please send an acknowledgement to the individual or organization to whom I am dedicating my donation.” If you don’t want me to make your name public, I won’t. And I will never post the amount of the donation. But I need to able to tabulate and showcase the donations total.

I’ll keep you updated here with progress. I’m aiming for $5,000 before Christmas  New Year’s, but whatever the final number, a lot of dogs have already been helped. Remember, the size of the gift doesn’t matter. Small donations add up.

Perfect Timing!

‘Tis the season for gift giving.

Perhaps people are asking you what you want for the holidays. You might suggest that they give a donation to Frankie’s Fund in your name.

Alternatively, if you have an animal-loving friend or family member who doesn’t need more stuff, this would be the perfect gift.

And yes, you will get a gift donation acknowledgement from Grey Muzzle — which you can show to the IRS, because all donations are tax deductible.

So do something nice for yourself, your family and friends. Help some deserving dogs.

And keep Frankie’s name in the limelight, even during his retirement. 

Posted in End of pet life | Tagged , , , , , | 25 Comments

If Your Pet Was a Tree, What Type Would He Be?

Native plant projectI wrote not long ago — a far shorter time than I could have anticipated — what my wishes were for Frankie’s remains. I thought I had plenty of time to find a way for him to assist in medical research.

I’m afraid that’s not going to happen.

I asked the hospice vet for ideas, but she couldn’t come up with any; neither could my regular vet. And I couldn’t cope with doing any further research on that topic. I need to focus on the present.

But I can’t completely ignore the future either. So cremation it is and, I decided, irrational as it is, that I don’t want Frankie’s ashes mixed in with those of other dogs. He never was much of a mingler.

What to do with them, then?

Enter Greenfinit®

By coincidence, I got an email announcement of a Kickstarter project that just, well, kicked off. Called Greenfinit® it’s “the first container made from a biodegradable polymer that holds your pet’s ashes and grows a native tree.”

Here’s a video that explains it in more detail (you might want to grab a few tissues):

I like this idea on many levels. The idea of Frankie living on in some form and, especially, contributing to the environment is extremely appealing.

The downside

But I have a few problems with it.

  • After spending many years taking care of Frankie, I don’t know that I want to continue in that role. I would be devastated all over again if he didn’t take root or, worse, died while he was a seedling.
  • I would have to choose an appropriate tree and, frankly, I can’t think of one that fits his personality.

Before I realized that the creator was talking about native trees, not just any plant, the first thing that came to mind was “shrinking violet” (sorry, Frankie).  I suppose I could choose a cactus — very low maintenance and Frankie could have his karmic revenge against the one that attacked him. But in his heyday, he was a very cuddly pup and I don’t like to think of him as a prickly plant.

I looked at the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association for landscape plants for the Arizona desert and didn’t find one that said Frankie — including the three allergenic trees, since Frankie is not a sneeze inducer.

So while I really like the idea in theory, I’m not sure that it will work for me in practice. I’ll also contemplating a Day of the Dead-style urn in the shape of a dog, if I can find one or have one made. I have lots of Mexican folk art in my house, and of course it would fit my choice of send-off day.

But I’m still pondering the Greenfinit® idea.

What do you think of the project? And if your pet was a native plant or tree, what type would he or she be?

 

Posted in End of pet life | Tagged , , | 25 Comments

Grief — & Relief: Consulting a Hospice Veterinarian

Frankie: He's not talking

Frankie: Sending mixed messages

There’s a comforting old saw that, to me, deserves to go the way of the myth of unconditional love: Your pet “will tell you when it’s time.”

Frankie has dementia and he’s blind but he’s fairly healthy. He lets me know when he wants to go outside to relieve himself but he can’t always find his water bowl without my help. He’s sometimes affectionate but he’s no longer aware when other people enter the house; his days of barking to “protect” me are long passed.

So what exactly is Frankie telling me? If anything, he’s sending me mixed messages, ones that I can’t decode.

It’s tough enough to watch your pet’s aging and illness; the last thing you need is the burden of trying to read the tea leaves to determine whether your pet wants to leave this world. Consider the natural language barriers — even those of us who have become reasonably familiar with dog signals can’t always understand the special dialects — and the fact that animals often hide their pain.

Not every pet “will tell you when its time” — and not every owner will be able to listen. Many of us need the help of a human who is an expert in this arena.

What Exactly Is a Hospice Vet?

Last week I did an interview with Dr. Janet Tobiassen-Crosby for About.com Veterinary Medicine; it was posted Monday as Hospice Help: Guidance for Knowing When It’s Time to Say Good-Bye. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk about my experience on a widely read forum; I’ve gotten quite evangelical on this topic.

There are a few things I’d like to add.

  • You don’t send your pet away with animal hospice. The term “hospice” for humans often means going to a separate facility to get medical care for a terminal illness, though home care is also an alternative. In animal hospice, your pet almost always remains at home getting care from their people with the help of a veterinary professional or professionals.
  • So called “euthanasia vets” often deal with life as well as death.  Many of us are aware that there are veterinarians who will come to your home to perform euthanasia so your pet can pass peacefully in familiar surroundings — in some cases, it’s your regular vet — but there is very little information about practitioners who also have an even more important role: as life counselors. In many cases, after a consult with a hospice vet, owners will learn that they have more time to spend with their pets as long as a pain- or stress-relief program is created. In other cases, such as mine, owners discover that they need to let go.

This discovery made me very very sad — and it was a huge relief to no longer spend my time trying to figure out what to do. In case I missed the point of what she was saying — “he seems to be frightened and confused much of the time; he’s not aware of his surroundings” — my vet, Dr. Sheila Kirt of Home At Last, was specific: “I probably would have said good-bye by now.”

I believe Dr. Kirt saw Frankie at his worst — more out of it than usual because we awoke him from a deep sleep — so, although that statement gave me a few guilt pangs, I don’t feel like I have subjected Frankie to undue distress (and now I’m devoting several weeks to making up for any discomfort I might have allowed him to experience). At the same time, I heard her message, loud and clear, and not from Frankie: “It’s time.”

Where Do You Find Such a Vet?

As I said in my interview with About.com, I found Dr. Kirt through a friend who had used her services and recommended them highly. I asked her how other people find her and she said, “Like you did: Word of mouth. Often, vets recommend me.”

There is an organization called the International Association of Animal Hospice Care and Palliative Care that lists some individual veterinarians with this type of practice (though not Dr. Kirt’s). I found the description of hospice on the site rather confusing: it does not make clear that your pet stays at home and it makes it sound like you have to hire an entire team of veterinarians — which could be very expensive. I don’t know what the actual cost of a palliative care program is; I haven’t investigated it. I paid a one-time consultation fee of $150 for a home observation and examination — money that couldn’t have been better spent. Forgive me if I sound like an American Express commercial but “Peace of mind? Priceless.”

So I would suggest you ask your vet and  look on the internet — and then get a personal referral in addition. You do not want a person in your house who is not good at this. You want someone who is kind but firm, who picks up on and respects your beliefs (in my case, my loathing of the Rainbow Bridge; of course it helps that I sent her my post on the topic in advance) but does not let them interfere with common sense — or the laws of the land.

Someone who confirms that your pet is adorable but does not let that deter her in advising you to let him go.

 Update: I wrote here about what was right for me; many others have had different experiences. See Your Turn: How Did You Know When “It Was Time”?

Posted in End of pet life | Tagged , , , | 27 Comments

Operation Spoil Frankie: A Progress Report

Classic+Pate+Mixed+Grill+Cat+FoodsIt’s been a little more than a week since I decided on a departure plan for Frankie: Wait until November 1 to say good-bye and, in the meantime, spoil him by giving him delicious treats and by not forcing him do anything he doesn’t want to do, such as riding in cars and going for walks in the neighborhood.

Frankie has always marched — or I should say not marched — to the beat of a different drum.

It’s a plan that sounds good in theory but several people expressed concern. Why prolong the pain of saying good-bye, some said. Wouldn’t it be better to just pull the bandage off quickly?

The Long Good-Bye

I can now answer definitely that I don’t feel like I’m prolonging the pain; rather, I’m regaining the joy.

I can — and will — mourn later but I’ll never have another chance to see Frankie bury his little head in the bowl and practically lick off the ceramic because he loves the cheap cat food I’m giving him. And I no longer have to weigh the “good for him to have exercise” argument against the signs of fear when it’s clear I want to put him in the car.

ruffles-cheddar-sour-creamYes, I’ve been sobbing over him on occasion, but far less frequently than I did when I wasn’t sure whether I was doing right by him. I’m busy trying to figure out the treat du jour. I thank Frankie’s fans on the Will My Dog Hate Me Facebook page for their suggestions.  Who knew cat food was doggie crack?

In addition to the Friskies, the treats have so far included Trader Joe’s Cocktail Pups (all beef, all natural, nitrate free, my idea) and cheddar cheese Ruffles (potato chips were the suggestion of Leo, aka Kenzo Hovawart, and not a smart choice, given my propensity for eating 10 or 20 chips to every one that finds its way to Frankie).

But it wasn’t until yesterday that Frankie hit the real dining jackpot. I went to a brunch buffet armed with little plastic bags and filled them with slices of grilled turkey, salmon, prime rib, roast beef and half a Sonoran hot dog (sans toppings). I’m lucky I wasn’t attacked by coyotes when I got out of my car.

The goal is to maximize the joy without incurring intestinal distress and so far, I’m pleased to report, I’ve succeeded.

In fact, Frankie seems to be thriving on this diet — I could swear it’s been improving his memory. But of course there’s far more incentive to find a fast route to the kitchen when roast beef, rather than kibble, might be waiting there for you.

Posted in End of pet life | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

Letting Go: Things That Go Bump In The Night — And the Day

The real Frankie, not the imposter who is living with me now

The real Frankie, not the imposter who is living with me now

One of my  bookshelves collapsed the other day and the handyman said that, in order to fix it, I would have to remove all the books, not just those that had already fallen down. So I started piling them up on the floor of my guest bedroom, which usually doesn’t have piles of books on the floor — as opposed to some other rooms of my house, which do.

But when I took Frankie out for his last pee of the night, I walked through that guest bedroom in the dark, forgetting about the books — and stumbling over them.

Which is when I realized that this is what Frankie must be experiencing. I don’t believe in divine intervention but I think it’s a good idea to take life lessons when they hit you in the face — and almost land you on your butt.

Is This How I Would Want to Live?

As I wrote recently, a lot of the end-of-life checklists don’t apply to Frankie. He never liked car rides, or even walks, so his recent lack of interest in them proved nothing to me about his quality of life. What gave him joy was being with me and being the king of his domain — i.e., our house.

Now the house itself is a source of confusion. In this late stage of canine cognitive dysfunction, Frankie stumbles around blindly, bumping into things, night and day. His diminished sense of smell doesn’t come to his aid.

But I had refused to see things from his perspective. I had so many reasons shored up for the “it’s not yet time” defense:

  • He still waits for me when he hears me drive up, often even in the proximity of the door.
  • He still wants his food, though he can’t always find it.
  • He still kisses me on occasion.
  • He is still house trained, though he can’t find his way in or out of the house very well.
  • He sleeps through the night.

What it boils down to: Frankie isn’t inconveniencing me — except, of course, for the fact that he tears my heart out every time I watch him stumbling around.

But what about him?

I began re-thinking my excuses.

The Hospice Vet

I’ve mentioned that, once I decided not to have Frankie’s teeth pulled, I began thinking of this phase of our lives together as hospice care. The book-stumbling incident gave me the impetus to make things formal — to call a veterinarian I’d heard about through a friend who specializes in the last phase of life and does in house consults. That is, she doesn’t only come over to administer a final needle, but also gives advice about quality of life.

I made the call — not necessarily planning on planning to say good-bye any time soon, though I suppose a part of me was hoping this limbo period would be over.

She was wonderful. I’ll tell you all about her visit another time. Bottom line: She felt that Frankie was very unaware of his surroundings, that he was definitely confused and possibly fearful much of the time.

That’s no way to treat a best friend.

The more we talked, the more I realized that I was ready (at least as ready as I’ll ever be, which is never) to let go. Because the more we talked, the more I realized that it’s not my Frankie I’ll be saying good-bye to, just a poor clumsy sprite that’s been occupying his body. It’s not an evil entity, just a sad one, but it nevertheless needs to be exorcised, so the real Frankie — a mischievous spirit if there ever was one — can return to take his rightful place in my memory.

Don’t worry. Frankie the imposter is still here. I’ll tell you more about my final plans. Hint: They include spoiling Frankie to the best of my abilities, which are considerable in that department.

Posted in End of pet life | Tagged , , , | 29 Comments

The Frankie Diaries, 9/22: How Do You Assess a Dog’s Mental Quality of Life?

I’m just back from the gym, where I ran into Joan,* my one-time dog-walking friend. I haven’t seen her in at least a year, but I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately, and not because I miss our walks. I really like Joan, but got the sense she viewed our outings as exercise opportunities for the humans — she wore a pedometer to make sure she was getting in enough steps — rather than, primarily, dog-oriented occasions. They often felt to me a bit like forced marches.

Frankie and Sarah (not her real name) -- as close as the two ever got, under duress

Frankie and Sarah (not her real name) — as close as the two ever got, under duress

Still, Frankie and Sarah, Joan’s miniature poodle, were kindred spirits. Neither was especially interested in interacting with other dogs, including each other. I don’t think they sniffed each others’ butts or otherwise greeted each other more than a couple of times in the two plus years that we all met twice a week. Each was careful to keep on the far side of his/her human.

It was a slightly odd but agreeable arrangement and I didn’t mind the exercise.

But when Frankie couldn’t keep up the pace, I bowed out.

A Human with Frankie’s Disease

What I’ve been thinking about was the subject of many of the conversations that Joan and I had: Joan’s mother, Mary, who had Alzheimer’s for more than 10 years. Mary was otherwise quite healthy and Joan, a nurse, was vigilant about her care, not only making sure that life threatening issues got prompt attention, but also arranging for less urgent treatments such as dental work and cataract surgery.

Of course, even with better eyesight, the once vital Mary could no longer read, and didn’t understand much of what was happening on TV.

In addition to monitoring her health, Joan spent a lot of time shifting Mary from one nursing home to another; one had a staff member that seemed iffy, though of course Mary wasn’t able to say if there was really a problem, another grew too expensive for Joan’s budget. She and I often talked about how we would not want to live that way, a burden on others and with no quality of life. We acknowledged that, aside from making sure our Do Not Resuscitate orders are observed, there is no legal way for anyone to help ease our way out of the world.

Not so with our pets.

What I once wrote

I finally screwed up my courage and looked up what I wrote about the topic in Am I Boring My Dog five years ago (!), long before I was actually faced with any tough decisions:

How do I know when “it’s time”– and what do I do when I’ve decided?

It’s ironic that we’re often forced to make end-of-life decisions for dogs, who can’t tell us what they want, but are prevented from carrying out the wishes of humans, who can. But if we’re powerless to design the deaths we might desire for ourselves and for our human loved ones, we can provide them for our pups, shielding them from prolonged pain and suffering. Dogs in turn have the advantage of living in the present, so they don’t anticipate and fear the end in the same way we do (or at least they don’t write turgid novels or make pretentious movies about it).

I don’t disagree with my earlier, more innocent self. I did not, however, anticipate the possibility of the problem being mental rather than physical. It’s difficult enough to figure out when our pets are in pain. The mental discomfort of canine dementia is largely uncharted territory.

Or, I should say, I’ve found guidelines on various sites but they don’t really apply to Frankie.

For example, they ask questions like:

  • Does your dog still enjoy interacting with other dogs? Um, no. Never did, never will.
  • Does he still enjoy going for walks? He doesn’t seem to mind, once I get him on the trail, but he enjoys the car rides there about as much as he did in the past: Not at all.  (It’s too complicated to explain here why I have to drive him to his walks.)

Other questions are more relevant, but they have trick twists.

  • Does he still enjoy his food? Yes, but he has trouble finding it.

You get the picture.

My quality of life

I don’t believe that Frankie is unhappy now; he sometimes paces a bit and often spaces out, but he doesn’t whimper or cry and he seems more annoyed than upset about bumping into things. People who have known him for a long time and see him outside the house don’t have a clue that there’s anything wrong with him; he still has his little prancing walk, though it’s a bit slower.

Mostly, he sleeps.

I’m the one who is sad, who makes constant comparisons — for example, with the Frankie of just six months ago who used to be able to play for 15 minutes with the squeaky carrot, until I got tired, and who now forgets the game after 15 seconds.

Yet for those 15 seconds he’s wagging his tail happily, not saying to himself, Boy, I used to be able to go for a lot longer (which would explain why dogs don’t need Viagra).

And so, today, I try to remind myself that I don’t miss those forced marches with Joan and Sarah. And if Frankie could remember them and could report back to me, I’d bet he’d say that he didn’t especially like them either, that he found Sarah the poodle a bit snooty and standoffish.

*Joan is not a blog reader or much of an internet user in general; she was always a bit paranoid — or should I say prescient? — about being spied on. I nevertheless changed her name and that of her dog (who doesn’t use the internet much either).

Posted in End of pet life | Tagged , , | 10 Comments